Learning Center

Responsible Party Hosting

Parties are fun, but use caution when serving alcohol.

Whether it’s a birthday, the Super Bowl or New Year’s Eve, if you’re hosting a party where alcohol is served, keep your guests from harming themselves and others. As a host, you may have certain legal liabilities. 

“Social host liability” is the legal term for the responsibility a person who furnishes alcohol has to a guest. Also known as “Dram Shop Liability,” these laws vary widely from state to state. Most offer an injured person, such as the victim of a drunk driver, a way to sue the person who served the alcohol. In some cases, criminal charges may also apply.

Before planning a party in your home, check with your insurance agent to see if your homeowners insurance has any exclusions, conditions or limitations related to liquor liability. Homeowners insurance often provides some liquor liability coverage but, depending on the policy, may not be enough.

Underage drinking 

Especially at graduation parties, the temptation may be there to allow minors to consume alcohol. Be aware that many homeowners policies won’t cover losses that arise from underage drinking.

Allowing underage drinking could result in an accident or property loss. These losses could result in crippling legal expenses, lawsuits and financial judgments against the host and their family that may have to come out of your pocket. With a lawsuit related to underage drinking, your insurance company could also decide to discontinue your policy. This is in addition to having to live with the guilt of knowing an accident or injury occurred because you allowed underage drinking in your home.

Protect yourself and your guests

If you host a party and serve alcohol, here are some tips to promote safe alcohol consumption and reduce your social host liability exposure:

  • Be familiar with your state’s Dram Shop liability laws. The National Conference of State Legislatures website lists Dram Shop Laws for all 50 states.

  • Don’t furnish alcohol to minors.

  • Focus on the theme of the party (birthday, Super Bowl, etc.) and not the alcohol.

  • Avoid games that promote excessive alcohol consumption.

  • Consider hosting your party at a restaurant or bar rather than at your home. This will help minimize your liquor liability risk.

  • Hire a professional, licensed bartender. Most bartenders are trained to recognize signs of intoxication and are better able to limit consumption.

  • Encourage designated drivers who won’t drink alcohol so they can drive other guests home.

  • Limit your own alcohol intake to be a better judge of your guests’ sobriety.

  • Offer non-alcoholic beverages like water, soda and juice.

  • Always serve food. High-carbohydrate and high-fat foods let your body absorb alcohol more slowly.

  • Do not "push" alcoholic drinks on people or make drinks excessively strong.

  • Stop serving alcohol to guests who are visibly intoxicated.

  • Toward the end of the evening, switch to coffee, tea, soda or juice.

  • If anyone drinks too much or seems too tired to drive, call a cab, arrange a ride with a sober guest or have them sleep at your home.

If you do chose to drink, please do so in a responsible, safe, sensible and healthy way. Pace yourself and encourage your guests to do the same.